Administrator’s Corner: Albert Lea is planning for the future
Administrator’s Corner by Jennifer Walsh
I’ve been the Albert Lea finance director for almost seven months and am thoroughly impressed with the fiscal management of the district. Many impressive classroom initiatives have been funded in the last four years, most significant is providing students in grades third through 12th with individual technology devices.
When attending conferences I often hear the phrase, “We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t currently exist.”
Ready access to technology and establishing the groundwork to use those tools effectively is essential to that preparation. Even with this significant investment, the district has continued to maintain low class sizes and a healthy fund balance!
Every state funds K-12 education differently, and Minnesota is considered one of the most complex systems. In Albert Lea 83% of the revenue is generated from the state, 10% from local property taxes, 3% from the federal government and the remaining 3% from miscellaneous sources. This breakdown is similar to other districts in the state. For the most part the state portion is generated by the “basic formula” on a per pupil basis. The Legislature increased the basic formula amount for this year and next by 2%. Historically the basic formula increases have fallen far short of the rate of inflation.
This prompts almost all districts to ask local residents to approve operating referendums to supplement state funding. Albert Lea’s current operating referendum expires at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
As we look to the future, our district faces some challenges. Over the past several years enrollment has risen slightly, but long-range projections show enrollment leveling off or even decreasing. This trend will substantially impact revenue, so it is imperative that our expenditure budgets also reflect that trend.
Our commitment to technology access requires a thoughtful replacement strategy. The state does not provide any additional funding for student devices, so those purchases are also part of our budget planning.
Overall it is apparent that the school board, Dr. Funk and the administration have made the decisions necessary to maintain financial stability. I look forward to continuing this tradition while providing our students with outstanding educational opportunities.
Jennifer Walsh is the director of finance and operations for Albert Lea Area Schools.